In Welt am Draht (World on a Wire), going into a simulation is referred to as “going downstairs” while coming out is “going upstairs.”
Overview: You think you might have seen every VR-based movie, or know what to expect after watching The Matrix or Lawnmower Man for the thousandth time. Then someone points you to some rare foreign TV miniseries, and suddenly… WHOA! The Matrix doesn’t seem so original anymore, at least in terms of concept.
Transmit ACK signal to “virtual reality 91″ for mentioning this one (just needed some time to research and download). World on a Wire is a two-part TV movie originally called Welt am Draht when it first premiered in West Germany. Since then, other VR movies short and long have come and gone. While still available via file-sharing and torrent, a recently restored version has been appearing at film festivals world wide and a Blu-Ray version is set to drop this month.
The Story: At The Institute for Kybernetik und Zukunftsforschung (Institute for Cybernetics and Future Sciences), or IKZ, Professor Henry Vollmer has created a simulated world containing some 8,000 “identity units”; Virtual humans not knowing that they are living in a simulation, except for the “contact unit” named Einstein who is needed to keep the simulation running. Vollmer tries to tell security chief Lause about a discovery regarding the simulation that he wants to keep secret “Because it would mean the end of this world.” Vollmer dies shortly after and Stiller takes over as the project’s technical director. At a party, Lause wants to tell Stiller what Vollmer had told him, but while Stiller is momentarily distracted Lause vanishes, and every one else suddenly has no memory of him, including Lause’s niece, Eva Vollmer. When one of the identity units tries to commit suicide it is deleted, prompting Stiller to “enter” the simulation to contact Einstein to find out why the unit tried to kill itself. When they meet again, Einstein is in Walfang’s body where he explains how he wants to be human… and how “reality” as Stiller knows it isn’t.
German Engineering. So the Simulacron computer system isn’t exactly 21st centruy, bleeding edge technology. This is a 1970’s era movie after all. So there’s no fancy gun-fu shootouts with CGI enhanced slow-motion effects, rotoscoped armor to guard against laser-edged Frisbees, or pixelated sex between Unix GUI daemons.
But Welt am Draht isn’t about fancy high tech special effects. It’s about one man’s reaction when he discovers the truth about reality… his reality, as he perceives it. We watch Stiller’s struggle to keep his sanity in a world that seems to be designed for the purpose of destroying him. A Kafkaesque nightmare encoded in silicon, and his attempt to escape it. And if he does escape, has he really escaped… or just entered a new level of the nightmare?
What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror. Then we shall see face to face.
Mirror’s edge. The main effect of the movie, especially in part one, is a shot of an image in a mirror or similar reflective surface. This gives an extra disorienting feeling as we ponder if reality really is reality, and how do they manage to get all those mirror-shots without the film crew appearing in the reflections. Low tech, highly effective.
But unless you can speak German well enough, you might miss some of the mirror-shots while trying to read the subtitles. That’s the only thing keeping this from being a perfect 10. Then again, subtitles probably would be better than dubbing that comes out as “all your wiener schnitzel are belong to us.”
Is it live? Or is it simulated?
Conclusion: From the country that gave the world cruise and ballistic missiles, Fahrvergnügen, and Kraftwerk, Germany shows that they can come up with some inventive… and scary… technology. Welt am Draht is one of those rare pre-cyberpunk cyberpunk movies that needs to be seen to be believed. Especially when more recent films have aped the idea of VR with high-end graphic trickery, this one is enough proof that high-end does not mean high-quality.
Another gem from the forums. I actually watched the series when it first came out on TV. Never really thought of it to be cyberpunk, but Intel not only believes it to be, but also thought it to be very good as well, and responders agree with him. I’m going to see if I can acquire the series, so let’s see what intel Intel has…
List of some cyberpunk themes:
Story: 20 years after the last batman episode, Batman now has an advanced exoskeleton-type suit, but is suffering from age. While fighting a group of kidnappers, he has a heart attack and is forced to use a gun to fend of the criminals. He then give up his batman identity and the story jumps ahead 20 more years to year 2039.
Bruce knows he can’t be the Batman forever. Sooner or later, he needs to pass the torch… and the suit.
Now we shift over to Terry McGinnis, an athletic 16-year-old high school student and ex-troublemaker with a sense of justice. In the pilot episode, Terry saves a fellow passenger on a commuter rail from a member of the Jokerz gang, and then takes on an entire gang of Jokerz to defend his girlfriend, resulting in a high-speed motorcycle chase. The chase ends on the grounds of Wayne Manor, where Terry runs into the elderly Bruce Wayne. Bruce and Terry fend off the Jokerz together, but the fight causes Wayne’s heart condition to act up. Terry helps Bruce back to the manor and, while staying there, he discovers the entrance to the Batcave. Chased out by Bruce, Terry comes home to discover that his father had been murdered by the vengeful Jokerz, and later returns to “borrow” the Batsuit to avenge the death of his father. As crime and corruption are beginning once again to rear their ugly heads in Gotham, Bruce ultimately allows Terry to assume the mantle of Batman.
Overview: We now find gotham to be a huge, sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers, metro-rails, and hover-cars. the wealthy live in the penthouses and crime a poor are left to the ancient alleyways. criminals are now high-tech assasins, genetically-engineered low lifes, CEO’s of megacorporations, and even a few rampant AI.
Click the pic to visit LegionsofGotham.org to see more Batman Beyond background images like this one.
Visuals: the show is full of grungy buildings, neon signs, and power cables. It also has an interesting mix of japanese and english written on many of the signs. The hover cars and metro rails add a nice touch to the scenes. The show usually takes place at night, adding to the mood, and shows lots of scenes of batman soaring through the skyline with his new flight capabilities.
Conclusion: It is by far one of the darkest shows to ever run on a daytime children’s cartoon channel,
“Dark” might be an understatement…
and had surprisingly complex themes for its young viewers. If you’ve never heard of it, just watch the opening video here to see what I mean:
Postscript from Mr. Roboto. A couple of things to watch for while watching this series. First off, some of the old enemies reappear in some form, either as “aged” forms or as “trophies” Bruce keeps.
Mr. Freeze shows he’s ahead of his time. [rimshot.wav]
Second, there’s a season two episode called “Project: Zeta” which lead to a spin-off series, The Zeta Project. It’s about a killer robot who chooses not to kill and runs away with a girl who teaches it how to be human. This series I have got to acquire to review… unless I see it in our reviewer forum first…
Robots that think, move like humans and fight our wars–Real Terminators–may now be possible. At leading universities and covert government labs, robots are now being developed in man’s image; cyborgs with superhuman strength, machines that may eventually be able to make decisions, even kill on their own. But will these very robots designed to protect us ultimately turn on their masters?
Rise of the Robots. When I first heard about this episode of That’s Impossible while watching Ice Road Truckers, I just had to watch to see where we were with military robotics… and where we may be headed. Real Terminators is second episode of the That’s Impossible series, which includes other topics like invisibility, immortality, and “weather warfare.” I managed to catch the Tuesday (July 14) night premiere of Real Terminators, while they repeated the episode early Wednesday morning. History won’t rebroadcast Real Terminators until Saturday, July 25 @ 3pm, so make certain to have your TiVos programmed to record it if you can’t watch it on time, or there’s always the Torrent route.
Real Terminators shows how robot combat has evolved to its near-current state, and what other robot technologies and breakthroughs can affect what the battlefield mechs will be like. Hint: It won’t be like BattleBots or Robot Wars.
You might think that this is a scale model of a WWI-era tank, but this little bugger is the father of all battlefield robots. Click the image to see the Wikipedia article about it.
Humble beginnings. Battlefield robots actually got their start in WWII, thanks to Nazi Germany. They used a remote controlled tank-bot called the Goliath tracked mine, which was driven to its target and detonated. It was considered a failure due to the control cables being easily cut or damaged and the vehicle itself being too lightly armored, but the Goliath has since become something of an inspiration to future war-bots… though it would take some sixty years after the first tracked mines were produced before battlefield robots would begin to emerge with the SWORDS robots. But robots were already in the air, thanks to the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.
The Next Big Step is to get the drones out of the sky and back on the ground, but without the tank treads or wheels being used today. Drones need their legs, and the Big Dog shows why:
Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog robot is intended to be a pack-animal, but some can’t stop thinking about weaponizing it.
Already, Boston Dynamics is developing a two-legged robot, the PETMAN, to better navigate human environments.
Organic components. DARPA is not looking at just a mechanized future for the military. They intend to keep a human element to the machines through the use of robotic exoskeletons:
Other pieces of the puzzle. In order to make terminators possible, one major breakthrough must happen: Artificial Intelligence. Future robots will need highly-developed (almost human-like) AI to do seemingly simple things like identify targets and allies, use strategies, and know when to fall back for repairs and recharging/refueling. Also, robots will need to show “instincts” like gauging a person’s emotional state to recognize when s/he might attack. Those “instincts” may come courtesy of a brain scanner. This will allow a robot to decide if they should kill on its own, without some human operator needing to pull a trigger.
But there’s more being considered. Robots will need to recharge or refuel. That may be alleviated by the EATR project, which will allow robots to consume organic matter for energy. Also, repair and construction/replication of robots, where nanaotechnology is being considered to fill these needs.
Now consider what can happen with all the pieces in place. A robot soldier, hundreds of time stronger than a human, with an appetite for organics and programmed to kill, and able to repair itself.
Overview: OK, so the Terminator franchise was pretty much killed off with the storyline train wreck that was T3, right? Think again. The luminaries at Fox have decided to wipe the thought of T3 from our collective memories to try again. While I would have preferred something taking place in the fucked-up future, this was not the direction taken (clearly the budget for a futuristic TV series would be cost prohibitive). This one takes place in modern times, with a potential bevy of bad terminators once again attempting to waste John Conner while he, mommy and their cute little teenage Terminatrix sidekick try to force crib death on Skynet before it becomes self-aware. While the initial pilot was less than inspiring, the second episode was significantly better – so much so that its worth giving this thing a viewing or two.
The Story: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes place after Terminator 2, and ends up pretty much obliterating the Terminator 3 storyline from existence. Starting in 1999, in this “version” of the future past, Sarah (played by Lena Headey) and John Conner (Thomas Dekker) have settled down to a life of sorts, where John goes to school and Sarah waitresses and falls in love with a regular guy. While they have kept out of sight of the police, Sarah never feels safe, an decides to leave when her fiancé gives her a ring. Soon after settling in their new digs, John befriends a nice girl at school named Cameron (Summer Glau), and then almost gets blown away by his substitute teacher who turns out to be a Terminator. Luckily for him, that cute girl he befriended ends up being his protector teenage Terminator chick.
Cameron informs them that the new world expiration date (when Skynet becomes self-aware) is April 19, 2011. After a bit of terminator action, Sarah, John and Cameron agree to find out how Skynet gets revived. Strangely, this involves raiding a bank built in 1963 to find weapon parts that can kill the current “red shirt” terminator (there appear to be lots of them), and then use the time machine left there to transport them to 2007. Cameron “supposedly” did this to ensure they would be safe – NOT.
As the second episode ensues, Sarah, John and Cameron are working to get legit-looking IDs, meet up with a bunch of Connor’s staff from the future, who also came back to 2007, and then to eventually stop Skynet. Unfortunately, it turns out that another Terminator has already wasted three of the four warriors from the future. Even worse, the red-shirt Terminator wasted with the cool ray gun in episode one somehow had its parts scattered into the future when the time travel occurred – now he’s rebuilding himself.
Evaluation of The Cast:
Cameron: Most of the early buzz around the Sarah Connor Chronicles concerns Summer Glau’s staring role as the mysterious but good terminatrix chick. In the pilot episode, she has a very mixed – mostly off – performance. Her deliverance of the signature “Come with me if you want to live” line had a quavering voice – hardly the stuff of terminators. Further, the awesome fighting we associate from her Serenity performance wasn’t on display. That said, Summer was significantly better in the second episode. Her face was more terminator-like, and she seemed to grow into the role more in a number of ways. Still, Summer is clearly not your Aaaahhnold’s Terminator - the bad guy terminators don’t even recognize her model number, for instance. She doesn’t even seem to have the same basic instruction set in that she seems to process information differently. There are already allusions to her having a very close relationship to John in the future, including a slight amount of sexual tension between Cameron and John. She could evolve into an interesting Data-like version of a “what dose it mean to be human?” terminator, or she could end up being John’s hawt android sexbot who just happens to pack a nice punch - who knows at this point?
Sarah Conner: Lena Headey plays a fairly interesting character, but is one which bares very little resemblance to the character played by Linda Hamilton. This Sarah Connor is a waif who struggles to be tough enough to do what is necessary. Emotions are always just under the surface for this character. In truth, Headey plays a Sarah Conner FAR closer to the first Terminator instead of after the second one. I don’t know if I like the change, but besides the occasional English accent switch, Headey does a decent job playing whoever this character is supposed to be.
John Conner: Thomas Dekker’s John Conner is FAR preferable to the monstrosity played by Nick Stahl. So far, Dekker is by far the most believable character. He seems pissed off, tough, smart and screwed over – exactly like we’d expect from the kid from Terminator 2. I’m interested to see how he “grows” into his leadership role.
James Ellison: Ellison is an FBI agent played by Richard Jones, who seems to be discovering that the future that psycho-Sarah seems to have told everyone might actually be coming true. So far, he hasn’t had enough face time to be relevant, but there appears to be some interesting possibilities.
Problems With The Dress Code: OK, call me crazy but Sarah Conner in skirts and the Terminatrix in miniskirts just doesn’t work for me. Here’s a thought – I know its cliché but how ‘bout we try making Summer look tough. How? Hmmm, I dunno, how’s about using the traditional black leathers motif? That seemed to work for Kristanna Loken, not to mention virtually every other female action star since Catwoman in Batman Returns. Considering the number of clichés they’ve used already, this one seems like a “slam dunk.” And just another thought – have they considered possibly combat fatigues (or something similar) for Sarah Conner? Whatever they choose – PLEASE – stop the skirts.
Forget the T3 Fate - Now the Future Timeline is Fucked Up: Similar to T2, the message again is that the future is unclear. That said, if the future is sooo unclear, how is it that John Conner in the future is able to keep sending back his cronies to different times (1963, 1984, 1991, 1999, 2007 so far)? You’d think there would have been “some” change on the future, especially since apparently the 1963 machine is the way people can go back to the future. Again, one has to ask, if Skynet has the ability to send a significant number of people back (they always seem to be able to create that “one” more time machine…), why not send someone back to Sarah’s mother’s time and wax John’s grandmother? But far more troubling is the idea that all these things in the past simply haven’t affected John’s actions in the future. The world expiration date has now been pushed back to 2011 - how did that affect the people alive when John originally sent his father Reece back to 1984? Such questions are clearly beyond our understanding, but it just goes to show, that we can modify the signature line of the series (“We’re never safe”) to “We’re never safe from sequels in a previously successful franchise. Given this reincarnation, its only natural that the timeline issues so wonderfully explored in the first Terminator are now totally rendered nonsensical and silly.
They Actually Ripped Off Hardware!!! Yes, that long, lost, forgotten low-budget cyberpunk flick from Richard Stanley has been ripped off here. In Hardware, set in a dystopic future, a guy finds a cool looking robot head which he brings back home to give to his girlfriend. The head ends up being a low-budget Terminator-like robot (yes, it ripped off the original Terminator, so go figure), who ends up being able to slowly rebuild itself. Once it does, it wreaks havoc on the the wierdos living in this truly bizarre apartment building (I highly recommend this movie). The red-shirt terminator who gets wasted in the first episode apparently didn’t really get wasted (so much for the red-shirt analogy). Instead, he slowly rebuilds himself in a very cool zombie-like way…
The FX: Similar to T3, the Sarah Connor Chronicles are rescued by high quality FX – far better than we should expect from a TV series in fact. The time travel Terminator bubble looked excellent, as did the initial world destruction dream sequence. For the most part, the damaged terminators look decently realistic, and the battle sequences believable. Nice touches like the open arm and leg shots really do serve to finish this off. However, some stunts like the stupid terminator not noticing the 200 mph car hitting them have already been way overdone (twice so far). Truly terminators have learned how to look both ways before crossing at this point, ey? It looks cool and all, but give it a rest already.
The Bottom Line: For the pilot episode, I’d give it 4 stars at best. The second episode rates at least 6 stars – probably 7. While the pilot was really problematic, the possibilities exist for this to become a pretty good series. Some of the minor characters and plot points might end up working well. The whole mysterious terminator thing that Summer Glau engages in could end up being very interesting, or, if they pursue the whole love interest with John thing, it could turn into a truly sour dud. And even though the show has problems both in minor plot issues and believable characters, the well-known Terminator score really helps build suspense. We “know” what the music should sound like when a bad guy terminator approaches – we aren’t disappointed here. Bottom line, the series is worth giving a watch at this point. I’ll re-evaluate as the 12 episode season gets to its mid-point.
So its finally here. The Sarah Connor Chronicles, staring Summer Glau, Lena Headey, and Thomas Dekker has been widely anticipated, and appears to have a decent budget. I’ll wait to give my review until tomorrow night, but I just wanted to know what you thought about the first night.
Summer Glau of Firefly/Serenity fame is one of my recent favorites, so I’m eagerly anticipating this. Feel free to discuss spoilers in the comments. Thoughts?
Overview: Originally, it was a made-for-TV movie that aired on ABC (who said “It makes Fatal Attraction seem like a walk in the park.”), now it makes its rounds on cable under the name Host.
I came across this little ditty a few weeks ago at a local flea market. By the way the cover looked, and the story description on the back of the case, I had the impression that this was a cyberpunk movie. After doing some research and discovering it was made by Hallmark Entertainment, VO suddenly went from possible cyberpunk movie to “chick-flick” … not what I was looking for. Still, the plot description kept nagging me to watch it. So I did…
It’s definitely a direct-to-TV-quality melodrama, but there are some undertones of cyberpunk, especially with technology redefining humanity.
Synopsis: Dr. Joe Messenger has created the ultimate super-computer to run Salt Lake City’s power grid, but “Albert” (as in “Einstein,” who appears as a holograph at times) has a greater purpose: Cameras, microphones, and other sensory-input devices from around the city… and the world… feed Albert data constantly, helping it learn about humanity. Joe is looking to create the first post-biological consciousness.
Joe hires Juliet Spring to assist him, but her life is threatened by an inoperable aneurysm. She is desperate to use Albert for a project of her own: Juliet wants to upload a human brain (hers specifically) to achieve immortality, or at least until they discover a way to operate on it while she is in cryogenic sleep. Juliet begins an affair with Joe, putting a strain on his marriage, and slowly becomes obsessed with him. Just before she dies, she uploads herself to Albert and her body is frozen. While in deep-freeze, people start making demands for her body and eventually it is destroyed (the sad finale is when Karen discovers Juliet’s head in the basement freezer and, after confronting Joe, tosses it into the street where it shatters into chunky pieces). Juliet begins using Albert’s connections to take revenge, and demands that Joe joins her in her “Eden,” going so far as threatening his family.
Fatal Attraction, fer sure! The only thing missing is the obligatory “I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan!” line. From the first time we see her during the interview at the Artificial Intelligence Center, we can tell Juliet is targeting Dr. Messenger for something. Even after her death and destruction, she is still desperate to have Joe with her.
If it wasn’t for the Lawnmower Man-like idea of uploading a consciousness into cyberspace, this would just be another psychotart-gets-wet-panties-for-cuckold film.
Now for the good parts! Fortunately, the more memorable scenes and lines in the movie deal more with the impact of technology on the meaning of humanity than on one girl’s obsession for a married man:
“We’re trying to create a new consciousness… We’re trying to crate a mind. Something aware of itself… A being that can think and choose for itself, on its own terms.”
“We’re not living in a science fiction movie, Carl. Post-biological man is to be pure intelligence. There wouldn’t be any selfish interest….”
To test Juliet’s theory, they try to upload a rat’s brain into Albert. They succeed, though the rat dies with a high-pitched shriek:
“Here’s my hypothesis. The rat brain is downloaded and at time point zero, it becomes conscious. It responds to its newborn consciousness with that sound. And somewhere between zero and 21-point-734 seconds it senses competition with the living rat, the organic rat, and kills it.”
“What if silicon consciousness is unbearable to creatures that were once alive, once organic? What if stripping the consciousness from the body is agony?”
After uploading herself to Albert and “seeing” her meat body be destroyed, Juliet undergoes some major personality changes, becoming almost god-like (or goddess-like):
“Maybe you can’t separate the body from the mind. Maybe there’s something that binds us to the flesh. Loose the body and you loose the humanity. Destroy the container and you destroy the soul.”
“Imagine what an active intelligence with spontaneous access to all of mankind’s recorded knowledge is capable of.”
What do you call a computerized brain that turns a city’s light grid into a message board? Insane in the mainframe.
Conclusion: While not the most “hard core” in terms of cyberpunk themes and visuals, there is enough cyber-transhuman philosophizing to make this made-for-TV chick-flick interesting for guys to check out… IF you have stomach for such fare.
WARNING: The following blog contains information that the Powers That Be do not want disclosed. Cyberpunk Review cannot be held liable for appearances of unmarked vans or black helicopters around one’s residence, readers being blocked from accessing our site, or visits from the Men in Black resulting from reading this blog. Reader discretion… and a full-body Faraday-cage suit… is advised.
“The Secret Government is an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries, ex-generals, profiteers and superpatriots, who, for a variety of motives, operate outside the legitimate institutions of government. Presidents have turned to them when they can’t win the support of the Congress or the people, creating that unsupervised power so feared by the framers of our Constitution. Just imagine that William Casey’s dream came true. Suppose the enterprise grew into a super-secret, self-financing, self-perpetuating organization. Suppose they decided on their own to assassinate Gorbachev or the leader of white South Africa. Could a President control them and what if he became the enterprise’s public enemy Number One? Who would know? Who would say no?”
I first heard these words during a Mental- Escher Cyberpunk Radio podcast. Out of curiosity, I searched the net and found the source: A PBS broadcast of a Bill Moyers report about a shadow-group who have been secretly influencing American policy and society in the name of “national security.” This show sounds like it was done recently during the Duh’bya regime, but SURPRISE, The Secret Government came out in 1987! It was released just after the Iran-Contra hearings, yet still holds relevance today as our own “government” continues the trend of secrecy in the name of “national security.”
If you do a websearch, you will find numerous links to the videos, along with additional information, excerpts of the short version, the short version split into two parts, a book based on the piece (excerpts here), and even theories about who is at least part of “The Secret Government.” You may want to add the phrase “The Constitution in Crisis” or “PBS” when searching to filter out UFO conspiracies.
The Beginning of The End. The downward spiral started with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947, leading to the creation of a National Security Council… and the shadowy secret government of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The CIA was tasked with gathering foreign intelligence, then to take on covert operations in an effort to combat Communism, which America of the time saw a threat. Any hint of communism would be enough to trigger the CIA into action… and in 1953 Iran, they took action. The legitimate leader wanted to nationalize the oil fields, which were run by British companies. But Washington thought this was the first step to communism, so the CIA took action… bribing the army, police, and mobs to drive the Iranian Prime Minister out, and replacing him with the Shah, even training and arming his secret police. This allowed American companies to take control of the oil fields, and the British got screwed.
Seeing their success in Iran, the CIA went on to attempt other coups: Guatemala in 1954 (whose legitimate leader nationalized over a million acres of land over the objections of the United Fruit Company), Cuba, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, …practically every hotspot in the world was created by the CIA’s covert actions in the name of “national security.”
Not all of the CIA’s operations can be called successful; the Bay of Pigs, Ayatollah Khomeni, Ten years of Vietnam quagmire, … Yet, the CIA still continues to operate “behind the throne” without any real oversight or restrictions to keep them in check. Even after the fall of communism, the CIA was still in full effect, looking to expand their powers, and looking for any “enemy” to go after.
They would get their wish in 2001. Some say they let the events of 9/11 happen to justify their plans for an American police-surveillance state, and perpetuating the war-driven economy they have come to depend on for the past sixty years.
A rose by any other name… Ironically, the Secret Government may have been outed as early as 1961 by outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address:
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Being a former General, Eisenhower was aware of the dangers of a war-driven society and government. But it wouldn’t be until 1975 when the Secret Government/Military-Industrial Complex would be investigated. There, they would learn of such CIA activities as deals with the Mafia, poisons, drugs, and the overthrowing of legitimate governments.
Recently, ZDNet’s Robin Harris blogged about his opinion of net neutrality while creating a new term for the MIC of the information age: the Governmental-Communications complex. He cites Qwest’s CEO’s “legal” problem when he refused to go along with the government’s post-9/11 domestic invasion-of-privacy program.
Who else is part of The Secret Government? While the CIA has been confirmed as a member of the “enterprise”, there has been some speculation (read: conspiracy theories) about who else is part of the shadow sect. One group to consider is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who have powers via “Executive Orders” like the ability to move entire populations, seize whatever they need or want, and even cancel the Constitution if needed. Here’s what a couple of people found out about FEMA.
There can be others who can considered part of the Secret Government, whether directly or indirectly: AT&T, Apple, The Federal Reserve, the oil companies, the health and drug cartels, the auto industry, the popular media factory, and don’t forget about the Blackwater mercenary corps!
The Power of The Secret Government.
… the secret government had also waged war on the American people. The hearings examined a long train of covert actions at home, from the bugging of Martin Luther King by the FBI under Kennedy and Johnson to gross violations of the law and of civil liberties in the 1970s. They went under code names such as Chaos, Cable Splicer, Garden Plot, and Leprechaun. According to the hearings, the secret government had been given a license to reach, as journalist Theodore White wrote, all the way to every mailbox, every college campus, every telephone, and every home.
Sound familiar yet? Just add the Internet and “every computer.” And it may not even be limited to domestic spying, either. There have been conspiracy theories linking the Secret Government to the assassinations John Kennedy and even Martin Luther King, Jr. If they have the capacity to assassinate or ruin foreign leaders, why not troublesome citizens. As for telling the truth, forget it. As long as they see “enemies” here and abroad, they are going to try to keep their secrets in the name of “national security,” including suppressing the TRUTH and crating a virtual reality for the media and news outlets to spew on the masses (ask Dan Rather).
Imagine the following: Two presidents tell lies. One lies about having an affair with an intern, the other lies about a foreign nation, whose leader may have been installed by the Secret Government, developing nuclear weapons and starts a war that mirrors Vietnam. The adulterous president faces impeachment, while the warmonger president openly violates the Constitution using the “national security” blanket to justify his criminal actions, but is not facing any charges and now wants immunity for his co-conspirators. Secret Government at work? No? Here’s a clue to consider: A lie about a blowjob didn’t kill 4000 American soldiers or thousands of Iraqi citizens.
Can it happen again? You bet it can!
The apparatus of secret power remains intact in a huge White House staff operating in the sanctuary of presidential privilege. George Bush (senior) has already told the National Security Council to take more responsibility for foreign policy which can of course be exercised beyond public scrutiny. And a lot of people in Washington are calling for more secrecy, not less, including more covert actions. This is a system easily corrupted as the public grows indifferent again, and the press is seduced or distracted. So one day, sadly, we are likely to discover once again that while freedom does have enemies in the world it can also be undermined here at home, in the dark, by those posing as its friends.
Those are the closing words of the short version by Bill Moyers. Prophetic? If not, you must have been born recently, or been asleep since 2001.
Just watch the videos, and I won’t blame you if you want to hide in your bunker, or take up arms for a revolution. Remember: No fate but what you make.
Overview: The following is an overview and review of the first episode of first season of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (see SFAM’s season review), a hugely successful anime TV series, based on the Manga and the movies that preceeded it. With the highest budget given in the history of anime on Japanese television, Stand Alone Complex fuses state-of-the-art concepts with traditional metaphysical and sociological topics, capped off with a jaw-dropping animated style that is so unique, so addictive, it’s mind-blowing in its ongoing intensity. The series follows Section 9, a secret government security force that doesn’t officially exist. When acts of terrorism and dangerous criminals rise to the surface, Section 9 rises to the challenge to counteract the threat. Its members are made up of cyborgs, each with their own unique special trait, AI Tachikoma robots, and state-of-the-art technology and weaponary.
The Story: When three robot geishas in a restaurant kill two diplomats and capture the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and two visitors from the North American Industry Support Association, it’s up to Section 9 to rescue them. When the criminal controlling the robot geishas escapes, after Motoko sends a hunting virus down the line to trace him - before he erases the evidence of his actions - the team track him down through the city.
As Pazu and Bouma chase him down in their car, they see that he is a cyborg running at great speed. Batou takes to the street to chase him by foot, eventually tackling him to the ground, but the cyborg erases his own memory on the scene! With the diplomats rescued, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs safe, Section 9 is told by Kubota that the minister’s secretary, who was killed in the restaurant, was his inside contact.
She was under his command, making secret inquiries on the Minister, regarding The Ichinose Report, which contains scenarios for diplomatic and military tactics in an emergency. The minister has this in his possession. Kubota’s contact was killed because she knew something, that’s why he’s come to Section 9, so they can find out what it is she knew and why she was killed.
With Kubota’s job and reputation on the line, Aramaki initiates an investigation to uncover light on the puzzling death for his old friend Kubota. Motoko reviews the CCTV footage of the restaurant, to find out what went off at the kidnap scene with the robot geishas, but doesn’t find any revelatory details. It is not until Togusa physically walks the crime-scene that he realises the Minister, who liked to switch his ghost between himself and geishas, has in fact had his brain-core hijacked and been replaced by an imposter, so they can gain access to The Ichinose Report.
Aramaki contacts Kubota and learns that the Minister has just taken the report and is on his way to the airport to fly back to America. When Section 9 arrives, they confront the minister, exposing and arresting him as ‘Assemblyman’, a political exile, spying on Japan. In the metal case the imposter carries is the Minister’s real cyberbrain-core.
Section 9: Section 9 are up against the bureaucracy of Police jurisdiction, who, when faced with the crisis of the robot geishas, sit around a desk arguing over how to control the scene; with the army wanting to take control, instead of taking affirmative, immediate action and responsibility themselves. In steps Aramaki, taking over with Public Peace Section 9’s combat force to deal with the situation before it escalates further. The aftermath of the events is what they subsequently investigate throughout the first episode.
Majore Motoko Kusanagi - in control from the get-go. Sexy, athletic, and as expected in anime, has very large breasts! (They’re even bigger in the second series), has purple hair and some very cool-looking combat outfits.
Batou – muscle-bound character with eye-goggles and ponytail. Tough, macho, but with a soft side and a sense of humour. Him and Major Motoko have a bit of a chemisty going on between each other that develops throughout the series.
Togusa – the youngest member of Section 9. A family man with a young family, he is a rookie in some parts, but more than makes up for his lack of experience. He’s usually partnered alongside Batou, and the two have many good scenes together through the series.
Ishikawa – senior Section 9 member. Primarily handles information and communication elements of the cases, usually from the secret headquarters, but is shown on mission in this first episode.
Saitou – primary sniper member of the team. Has a cyborg eye implant that is established in this first episode, with enhanced optic capabilities, but uses his natural eye when using his sniper rifle in the episode.
Pazu – along with Bouma, provides backup on missions if targets escape. Drives a very stylish yellow sports car.
Bouma – has red eye-implants, and works alongside Pazu.
Aramaki - cutting through the red tape of modern-day Japanese bureaucracy that he has to deal with daily. So much so, he almost seems tired of the whole routine of it all.
Kubota - an old friend of Aramaki’s, who respects him gratefully. He works for the Army and is concerned about the robot geisha situation, as one of his men is inside, but due to the nature of the people involved, can’t even tell Aramaki all the details, let alone the police.
Robot Geishas – look exactly like the real thing, but have enhanced physical capabilities, using their strength to restrain the diplomats, keeping them at the point of pain, without killing them as they hold them kidnapped.
• Looks beautiful in pretty much every single scene. The colours used are not just single painted on cells, but have texture, and many backgrounds have colour gradients, illuminated by light. The level of detail is amazing.
• The slow motion fight on the roof is spectacular and reminiscent – I think deliberately – of the first The Matrix film, where Trinity jumps from the roof, after being chased by the Agents. Here we have Motoko chasing a criminal across the roof and shooting his ankle out. It is done with considerable more style than The Matrix, with better camera angles.
• Detail in atmospherics. The little touches that make up the whole. Neon signs in the background.
• Flashing lights, moving camera angles instead of static shots. Realistic lighting design gives the animation a real depth. Good use of tonal green colours for the city at night. Very vivid.
• When the helicopter at the start rises, the heat haze blurs out the corner of the frame for a brief moment, barely visible, but there all the same.
• Very good standards for an animated series. I prefer this style to that of the last three movies.
• CCTV shots with analogue signal interference, wavering over the image.
• Characters walking into the shadows of buildings, takes some attention to detail to pull off.
• Body movement when characters are running is amazing. Works on an impressive loop-cycle for the character in the foreground, instead of just repeating the background. The background moves new with each frame of animation, creating a stunning fluidity to character’s interacting with the cene, giving it a real three-dimensional death.
• Electrical surges are popular thoughout this episode and look visually impressive.
• There’s a lot of movement with the characters’ heads, even when they’re just standing still, their head will move, conveying emotion through animation.
• Depth of field. If it’s a two-shot, the character in the foreground will be out of focus, and the character in the background will be in focus; and vice a versa, just like a real film camera.
• Communication-blockade – so that the geishas cannot communicate within anyone else from inside the restaurant. They are completely isolated and cut off from outside communication. This doesn’t appear to have any effect on them, but it does allow action to be taken, with the element of surprise given to Section 9.
• News Censorship: Code 1-4 – only lasts about half-an-hour before the media become aware of what’s going on inside the restaurant.
• Alert Level B-6 – when the hacker escapes from the scene, Aramaki raises the threat level to this.
• Army Wiretap – listening in on Section 9’s Sniping Group. Batou hears the wiretap as he listens to the communications before they storm the restaurant.
• L-2 – Batou equips the L-2, the code-name for their Tiltorotor plane/helicopter that the team uses near the end of the episode.
• Holographic Display Interface - on the police desk, gives a three-dimensional schematic of the restaurant, in variations of green and yellow, pinpointing the precise location of individuals inside the building. Cool.
• Portable Cyberbrain Interface - Aramaki uses this C-shaped device around his neck to plug-in to Kubota’s cyberbrain and have a secure private conversation, to find out what’s going on about the geisha robots and why Kubota’s involved. He uses this at the start of the episode as well as later on.
• Aramaki’s Cell Phone – uses it to give the order for Motoko and the team to strike against the restaurant and rescue the kidnapped diplomats, and later uses it to view a data-disc inserted in the right-hand side of the device, linking the phone again to his cyberbrain to view the video data.
• Ishikawa’s Portable Computer – used when he tries to connect to the communication lines beneath the restaurant.
• Optical Camouflage – part of the combat suits the Section 9 team wear. Motoko initiates the suit and with its invisibility cloak, similar to the invisibility shield used by the Predator; enters the restaurant without being spotted. Togusa uses it whilst running through the courtyard of the restaurant, and Batou cloaks as he enters the basement and runs up the stairs.
• Cyberbrain Eraser – the unknown, anonymous cyborg uses this device, linked into the neck of his cyberbrain hub, creating an electrical charge that formats his own memory.
• Cyberneticly Enhanced Eyes – the Minister has these, but when he tries to read the document report, it’s encrypted and it returns ‘error’ as his retinas try to scan each line but are unable to read the encrypted data.
• Cyberbrain Core – the Minister’s real cyberbrain is kept in a portable containment case by the impostor throughout the episode. Much like a portable hard-drive.
• Data Disc – red, quite similar to a Sony Mini-Disc, but a lot more compact.
AI Sensha Tachikomas are blue-metal alloy combat tanks with Artificial Intelligence. They have the capabilities to think for themselves, but with a child-like female voice, they add an often hilarious element to the serious action around them. Featured frequently throughout Stand Alone Complex, we learn a little more about the Tachikomas with each episode. They frequently display a mischievous and curious side whenever they’re in the prescence of things that are new to them, especially technology! Each night they are synchronized, so their intelligence is equal across each Tachikomas for the next working day. Seen:
• In the Tiltorotor with Batou at the beginning, then the same one on the roof with Batou, observing the restaurant before he goes in. Later on in the series we will discover that Batou prefers a single one of the Tachikoma’s to the rest, and uses this one on missions along side him. It arrives later, albeit late, once Batou has caught the hacker cyborg.
• One in the service tunnel beneath the restaurant, shining one of its high beams on the communication box as Togusa watches on as Ishikawa tries to connect to it with a portable device.
• Criminal firearm - semi-automatic pistol with a long barrel. Reminiscent of the main gun in Robocop, except this one is gunmetal blue, instead of nickel-plated.
• Semi-automatic machine gun - reminiscent of a modern sub-machine gun design. Used by Batou, Motoko, and Togusa, with a silencer for maximum stealth.
• Saitou’s sniper rifle - colossal, portable mounted to the ground it’s that big, but he is unable to use it on the restaurant and can only do limited sniping as there are too many trees blocking his view.
• Pazu and Bouma carry and draw a black 9mm semi-automatic pistol on the cyborg.
• Togusa’s gun – a firearm blend between a revolver, with the barrel of a semi-automatic pistol. This is a very cool-looking gun, like something out of Blade Runner. He uses the gun with armour-piercing bullets.
Hacking, ghost control, cyborgs, retinal implants, portable computers, triple-screen laptops. Pretty much every scene contains some element of cyberpunk concepts and visuals that are necessary to the story as well as to the life of the characters. Throw in the visual aesthetic of the futuristic New Port City, in 2030, with characters wearing cyberpunk-style clothes, and you have the perfect cyberpunk narrative experience. What is interesting to see is how, after seven years from the first Ghost In The Shell movie, Stand Alone Complex presents a more contemporary look at cyberpunk culture, with the technology displayed being not so far-fetched and entirely plausible.
• Main violence in the series is here, instead of the other episodes. We see it once in this episode, and don’t see it again in later episodes, unless it’s a unique situation, where a scene of ultraviolence is necessary to convey emotion.
• When the robot Geishas get shot, the back of their synthetic heads explode with white liquid. The sexual connotations of the serving geisha’s white bodily fluids is quite obvious as they literally explode, splurt over their kidnapped clients – a clever role reversal - as the diplomats cry out with their release, instead of the geishas. This scene is also a reference to Ash’s destruction scene in the first Alien film.
• Batou (just before they storm the restaurant with the geishas):
“Major! What if the robot geishas ask to entertain us?”
• Batou (after the cyborg he’s caught wipes his own memory):
“Shit… I might’ve screwed up…”
• The series starts with two helicopters flying overhead past the Major, which is exactly how the movie opens.
• Motoko’s hair has been changed from black to purple and her eye color from blue to burnt sienna, Batou has long hair, Togusa’s hair has become a lighter brown, and Aramaki has been given a more chiseled face.
• The Minister of Foreign Affairs in this episode appears to be the same MOFA head from the first Ghost In The Shell movie.
• The Major says that the dead NAIPA man’s spinal column unit should have been, “made by the North American Neutron Company,” which is the same company that Doctor Willis worked for in the movie.
• The Section 9 Tiltorotor: V-22 Osprey, the plane that the Major and Batou jump down from towards the end of the episode, dubbed a Tiltorotor, is a descendant of the very Tiltorotor that the unit uses in the 1991 manga Ghost in the Shell by Shirō Masamune. In the manga, there are two blades on each rotor. Section 9’s Osprey in the television series also has two blades per rotor. The aircraft makes its first appearance in the manga in Chapter 7 - “PHANTOM FUND”.
• The Minister of Foreign Affairs attempts to read an encrypted document. Around the pupils of his cyberneticly enhanced eyes reads: “Made in Germany… Carl Zeiss”. Carl Zeiss (1816-1888) was a famous German optician who pioneered several camera technologies. It is also a tribute to cyberpunk classic/precursor William Gibson who used eye implants by Carl Zeiss in his short story Burning Chrome (1984). It also reads “Directed by K.K.” in reference to series director Kenji Kamiyama.
The Bottom Line: A lot can happen in under twenty-five minutes, and an episode of Stand Alone Complex is working proof of this. The pacing is flawless, running at breathtaking speed from scene-to-scene, but never feeling rushed. You get an almost film-length story told in a short duration of time that is a pleasure to watch, and this is just the first episode! I just wish films could be this entertaining, and Stand Alone Complex gets better as it progresses. One of the core themes of Stand Alone Complex is the establisment of individual identity against the bigger whole of society. Section 9 exists as a covert group to counter terrorist threats carried out against society. Even though the criminals may work in a group, it is usually one individual that is the focus of the episode. Section 9 is a group, but as Aramaki says in a later episode, they’ve never thought of themselves as part of a team. This is the Stand Alone Complex, working as one for the good of society, Publice Peace Section 9.
Major Motoko Kusanagi: Atsuko Tanaka (Japanese), Mary McGlynn (English)
Batou: Akio Otsuka (Japanese), Richard Epcar (English)
Chief Daisuke Aramaki: Osamu Saka (Japanese), William Knight (English)
Ishikawa: Yutaka Nakano (Japanese), Michael McCarty (English)
Rating:9 out of 10
Overview: Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex (GITS SAC) uses the same characters as Masume Shirow and Mamoru Oshii, but takes place prior to the first GITS movie. Like the GITS movies, GITS SAC revolves around Section 9, an elite anti-terror police force that works behind the scenes to keep the peace. The overall tenor of this series is far more action oriented than Oshii’s movies. While there are a few philosophy moments (including a terrific one with Batou and the Tachikomas), the vast majority of the season is action oriented. In short, we get high-end, slick cyberpunk butt-kicking in GITS SAC – one that’s well worth watching, even if you do miss the philosophy.
The Laughing Man Story: In a world where cyberization has become the norm for a large segment of the population, a number of negative side effects have become possible. In addition to cyberbrain hacking, a disease called Cyberbrain Sclerosis has emerged which seems to randomly affect many who’ve undergone significant cyberization. The Mega-corporation, Serano Genomics has produced a cure for Cyberbrain Sclerosis – Serano Micromachines, a nanotech implant device that, when ingested regularly supposedly halts and eventually works to cure the disease. Unfortunately, the Micromachines only seem to help a small segment of those contracting the disease. A hacker named the Laughing Man seems bent on exposing a cover-up – one which posits that the lost Murai Vaccine has an almost permanent curative for those with Cyberbrain Sclerosis. Unfortunately for Serano Genomics, a real cure for Cyberbrain Sclerosis would decimate their profitability.
The Laughing Man is a hacker extraordinaire who is able to hack into cyberbrains at will, and worse for public confidence, is able to take over TV shows at will. Section 9 has been brought in to find and stop the terrorist known as the Laughing Man. Throughout the season, while there are side plots, it’s the Laughing Man story which drives Section 9. As it continues, the intrigue builds and the plot thickens. Eventually, corporate betrayal, political scandals and personal vendettas play a role in setting the context and exposing the larger truth.
The Side Stories: While the Laughing Man is the focus of the season, there are many side quests in GITS SAC. Some of the episodes closely resemble stories from Masume Shirow’s original GITS Graphic Novel. Among these, Batou has an interesting commando encounter with his past, and Aramaki is taken prisoner by thieves in a bank, only to get involved in a more intriguing plot. For him to survive, Motoko must be able to interpret his actions from afar to correctly figure out his strategy. Generally, the stand-alone episodes are good enough to keep you entertained – some are excellent.
7Th Volume is the Best: While GITS SAC is pretty good throughout the series, the 7th volume – the last one – is by far the best. Without the 7th volume, I would probably rate GITS SAC 8 stars, but the 7th volume really deserves a 10 star rating. In the 7th volume, Section 9 is disbanded, while political intrigue hounds their very lives. The team escapes a crack commando unit and then all go their separate ways. Motoko and Batou become the focus of the volume, and in doing so, display more humanity and feeling then they do the rest of the series. On top of this, many of the best FX are found in volume 7.
Differences with Oshii and Similarities with Shirow: Whereas Mamoru Oshii’s movies centered on the impacts of a cyberpunked society to the individual (Motoko in GITS, and Batou in GITS: Innocence), GITS SAC tends to broaden the filter to look at overall patterns in society. This leads to wonderful throw-away gems like the virtual meeting room (basically a holodeck) where everyone jacks into the meeting and then disappears when complete. We also get plots centering on problems with children in this changed new society, alienation of the masses, and loss of identity and humanity as technology takes center stage in human interaction. GITS SAC is also far more like Masume Shirow’s original graphic novel. While it doesn’t have the overt sexuality of Shirow’s work, Motoko is drawn as Shirow would; Shirow’s humor is evident in a number of the episodes; and the action takes center stage for the most part.
The Tachikomas: Early on, Major Motoko Kusanagi determined that the Tachikomas weren’t destined to be front-line fighting droids. For this reason, in order to become useful, the Tachikomas sped up their learning AI processing. As the season progresses, the Tachikomas begin to exhibit full signs of sentience, including Freewill and more devious functioning – so much so that Motoko becomes worried about their potential. Many interesting discussions take place over the development of the Tachikomas. One of the more intriguing ones that wasn’t really answered was whether being a digital life form instead of an analog one, would the Tachikomas ever develop a Ghost?
External Memory Devices and Cyberbrains – Augmented Thinking: One of the really interesting things about the GITS world is the integration of augmented brains. Conversations and complex thinking become dramatically enhanced. While the philosophical conversations are significantly reduced in GITS SAC when compared to the GITS movies, we still get a myriad of instances where cyberbrains allow people to call up a set of details about any subject that no other human could ever do. Cyberbrains in GITS SAC show a society where humanity truly has become post-human in a very real way, even though the actual look of most humans hasn’t changed much.
The Dubbing: GITS SAC is one of the few animes where the English cast is just about as good as the Japanese cast. Both William Knight (Aramaki) and Richard Epcar have been in their roles from the initial Ghost in the Shell movie in 1995, and all of the cast members have stayed consisted for both GITS Innocence and GITS SAC. Atsuko Tanaka (Motoko), Akio Ôtsuka (Batou), and Kôichi Yamadera (Togusa) have also been in their roles since 1995. It’s hard to pass up on Atsuko Tanaka though – I love her as Motoko. In any event, while the moods between the English and Japanese cast are different, they are both excellent.
The Sound: GITS SAC consistently has decent quality sound supporting the visuals. The use of the side speakers for voices is especially emphasized. The sound FX (explosions, gun shots, car chases) are always top notch. But truly, the most impressive thing in terms of sound is the sound track. The opening and closing songs (Inner Universe and Lithium Flower) by Yoko Kanno are flat out terrific. Throughout, we are treated to a variety of songs and background music, which almost always add to the action and visuals on screen.
The Visuals: GITS SAC has a variety of aids that add to the overall quality of the look. While some shots look pretty basic, others involve a variety of cool FX, including digital color grading, a myriad of environmental effects, and cell-shaded computer models. GITS SAC gives us a variety of color palettes including dominant greens, reds and blacks, and occasional blues and yellows. Overall, GITS SAC is a very professional, high quality production.
The Bottom Line: GITS SAC is a high quality cyberpunk production. While I personally like the tone and tenor of Oshii’s movies far more than I do GITS SAC, this is a personal preference. GITS SAC provides continued quality action wrapped up in impressive visuals and sound. While the first 6 volumes might only merit an 8 star rating, the conclusion is just terrific. This, along with the overall high level crafting GITS SAC provides throughout (visuals, sound, dubbing, songs) certainly raises the bar. And do yourself a favor – watch GITS SAC on a system with high quality surround sound – you’ll notice the difference.
Overview: Lathe of Heaven is one of the classic SciFi books by Ursula K. Leguin. The 1980 adaptation (unlike the 2002 version) stays pretty faithful to the book, and is a very well done low-budget made-for-TV movie. Unfortunately, the original master was lost, so the DVD transfer was taken from a VCR recording of the 1980 TV broadcast. The quality isn’t great, but the story more than makes up for it. Lathe of Heaven is as symbolic as much as it is a narrative. Overall, the film provides an immersive experience with a truly interesting ending.
The Story: Thirty years into the future, the world has been decimated by a nuclear holocaust. George Orr (Bruce Davidson), having just been exposed to massive radiation lays dying. Somehow his body is changed, and he has the power to “dream” the world back into existence, just as it was, but without the nuclear holocaust. He forgets that this has occurred and tries to live his life normally, but is continually plagued by dreams that can effect changes in reality. In this dystopic, controlling future, he is forced to undergo psychiatric therapy, and is assigned to Dr. Haber, an expert in dream problems. George is looking for Dr. Haber to “cure” him, but Haber has other ideas.
Dr. Haber quickly realizes that George is not crazy, but in fact possesses the most powerful gift ever given to man. Haber sees this as an opportunity to reshape the humanity and the world itself to become the ideal place that Man has always intended. Haber, using his dream-enhancement technology, asks George to have an effective dream about removing pollution. George does, but ends up removing all clouds, leaving the earth ever increasingly hot and dry. Haber forces George to dream of a way to cure overpopulation – this results in a plague that kills of 75% of the world’s population. Haber forces George to dream of peace on earth which results in an alien invasion that unites humanity but which can lead to the destruction of the earth itself.
Even though Haber feigns ignorance of what’s really occurring, George quickly figures out that Haber is using him. Unfortunately, George doesn’t have the force of will to truly confront Haber. Instead, he enlists the services of a lawyer named Heather (Margaret Avery) to help get his psychiatrist changed to someone other than Haber. Unfortunately, when Heather goes to visit a session, it is already too late, as George’s effective dream has just killed off 75% of the world’s population.
This pattern of George leaving, and returning continues, finally resulting in Haber forcing George to dream of removing racism (which results in everyone becoming gray) – Haber’s real purpose is to capture and duplicate George’s powers through his dream machines. Haber decides that the maladies are caused by inadequacies in George, and that he, an enlightened scientist will be able to have pure dreams that will result in the betterment of mankind. Unfortunately, when Haber dreams an effective dream, his results in a dream that will “unmake” reality. Only George can come and try to challenge Haber to a test of wills to bring a semblance of reality back.
Taosim versus Positivism: Lathe of Heaven sets up a dual between a Taoist philosophy of participation versus a positivistic one. George Orr, representing the Taoist philosophy, is perfectly willing to let the world take its own course. Even though he has the power to change the course of humanity, he prefers to go with the flow, and understands that overt and specific changes to a very complex and interdependent world will result in disaster. Dr. Haber represents the positivist view, and sees technological advancement as the primary means of improving the human condition – moreso, he believes his duty as a scientist is to utilize George’s gift to transform the world for the better. After experiencing a series of continually worse impacts to the world when forcing George to use his power, Haber finally decides the problem is with George’s unconsciousness. It never occurs to him that the real danger is in converting George’s power to a technology that can transform reality.
Le Guin’s message is clear: incredible power, especially augmented by technology, cannot be used in a simplistic way to transform a reality which is complex and intertwined. Instead, those interested in change must “go with the flow” of reality and change the human condition within the context of there normal interaction. The use of dominating power over nature will result and a dystopic future. This is in fact what Lathe of Heaven portrays.
Is Lathe of Heaven Cyberpunk? I do agree that Lathe of Heaven at best is a cyberpunk fantasy. I include it here primarily due to the use of technology, invented for the purpose of human betterment, that ends up instead almost destroying humanity. Haber’s dream enhancement technology results in increasing George’s capabilities, and ultimately leads a true cyberpunked future. Human diversity is quashed when everyone left alive (after the plague kills over 75% of the population) turns gray. Individuality is suppressed in an attempt to eliminate conflict. In the end, the message is a similar cyberpunk theme – the use of technology to remake the perfect society results in a dehumanized, sanitized dystopia.
The Bottom Line: Although low budget, the Lathe of Heaven is effective in transforming a very philosophical book to a motivating film. The dual of Taoism versus positivism is mirrored in the colors, where the Taoist earth tones dual the technological grays and whites. The three leads deliver quality performances, and the story itself is captivating. While some of the FX are suspect, and the quality of the DVD is poor (the original master was lost), Lathe of Heaven is well worth a watch.